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The Impact of Seasonal Employment on the Prince Edward Island Labor Market

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The Impact of seasonal employment on the Prince Edward Island Labor Market

Seasonality has long been an issue facing the Prince Edward Island labor market. Many of our primary industries involve a great deal of seasonal work. This presents challenges for employers in these industries as well the people seeking employment and the human resource specialists tasked with creating strategies to recruit and retain seasonal staff.

In the following paragraphs the reader will learn about the seasonal landscape of Prince Edward Island's labor force, the challenges presented by a seasonally dependent workforce, and strategies used by government, employers, and more specifically Human Resource specialists, to cope with such challenges, specifically in the Agriculture industry.

Seasonal employment is necessary for many Island industries that go through periods of inconsistent business volumes, generally high volume in the summer and low volume in the winter. In these situations it is inefficient to have employees employed year round for positions that are only in demand for certain months of the year. Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Tourism and Hospitality are all primary industries on Prince Edward Island, which experience a large degree of seasonality in comparison to other industries in the province, and results in Prince Edward Island having one of the highest seasonal employment variations in the country. The difference between the amount of people employed during peak summer months and winter low points is known as the seasonal variation. Prince Edward Island has the second highest seasonal variation in the country at 15%, just behind Newfoundland at 16%. (P.E.I. Service)

Seasonal work offers benefits to certain work groups such as students or stay at home parents who are only able or willing to work certain periods throughout the year. It may also be beneficial to those seeking supplementary income in the form of part time work at a restaurant or hotel during peak season, on a farm during spring planting or harvest, or in the summer time picking berries or storing silage.

Seasonality poses serious challenges to employers and Human Resource Specialists who are tasked with recruiting and retaining quality employees who are crucial in ensuring the success of the operation. Hiring and training new staff every year is a significant expense regardless of the type of work, and any business would be wise to retain as many skilled workers as possible from year to year, as opposed to hiring new ones. Even if employees do return to their post year after year, they may require re-training to jog their memories or to familiarize themselves with new equipment or standards. Difficulties in hiring sufficient seasonal employees may lead to lost productivity, as there may not be enough labor available to maximize production. Overall this equates to seasonal businesses being less efficient compared with year round ones.

The quality and skill level of applicants attracted to seasonal work is often reduced in comparison to that of year round industries. Although less skills and training is required to successfully complete most duties associated with seasonal work, it may lead to a lack of work ethic and commitment from workers (P.E.I. Service). Part-time workers who use these positions to supplement their incomes, as well as students working summer jobs, often don't exhibit the same level of commitment to their employers in comparison to year round employees. Students often see these positions as a means to pay for tuition, and may exhibit little motivation to advance their skills and move up the ladder in the organization. This poses an issue when it comes to succession planning, as fewer employees are prepped to move into roles with added responsibility.

The effects of seasonal employment on workers can be great. It leads to reduced job security, stress due to loss of income, the need to combine jobs, and increased dependence on employment insurance to supplement income throughout the year. Many seasonal fishermen for example, work long strenuous hours during their open seasons, and then spend the rest of the year dependent on Employment Insurance.

The agriculture industry has one of the highest seasonality rates on Prince Edward Island as it realizes a seasonal variation of approximately 33% (P.E.I. Service). Although the number of farms is decreasing, the amount of seasonal employment is increasing (P.E.I. HRDC). Peak demand for labor in this industry is potato crop seeding in May/June, and the harvest in October/November; as well as the berry-picking season in the summer months.

The degree of seasonality in this industry poses serious challenges to employers who wish to avoid lost production due to insufficient employment levels. Those involved with recruitment of Human Resources in the Agriculture industry must use a variety of techniques to ensure demands for labor during peak times are met. A few of these strategies are discussed in the following paragraphs.

Ten years ago 86% of jobs in agriculture were recruited by word of mouth, and only 12% of industry jobs were posted online (P.E.I. HRDC). Today, the viral popularity of online job-searches has changed the way people seek employment and now the majority of part-time work is posted and sought out using the Internet. Job related websites such as the Prince Edward Island Job Bank are a cost effective way of posting positions and attracting large numbers of applicants. The majority of farms seeking laborers use such websites as a primary means of attracting workers.

The Agriculture Pool is a country wide service dedicated to the Human Resource needs of the Agriculture industry. In business for over 20 years, it benefits employers and employees alike by posting help wanted ads for all types of jobs in the industry, as well as compiles lists of available employees in all different areas of the country for employers to source. This resource is beneficial for farms seeking large numbers of relatively unskilled employees for jobs such as berry picking or harvesting (Hodgins).

Employment agencies play a role in matching the supply of those willing to work with employers in the agriculture industry. There are a number of employment agencies on Prince Edward Island who work on behalf of employers to recruit appropriate staff for their operations, some even providing training and development



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